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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump's Old Attacks; Cosby to Stand Trial; Virginia Governor Under Investigation; Sanders: Dem Convention Will Be "Messy". Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2016 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:04]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" rerun is not as '90s as Donald Trump's latest line of attack.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump bringing back a long-ago debunked conspiracy theory as he hammers away on Hillary Clinton. But will regurgitating a lie even matter?

The story broke right here 24 hours ago. Virginia Governor, Democrat Clinton ally, Terry McAuliffe under federal investigation for campaign contributions -- how McAuliffe is responding today.

Plus, breaking news, one woman finally getting her day in court against Bill Cosby, the ruling today, that America's dad will stand trial for sexual assault.

Hello again, everybody. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Once again, journalists are in the unhappy predicament of trying to decide whether and how to cover false allegations raised by a candidate for president of the United States. This time, in the midst of Donald Trump's attacks on the Clintons using various scandals and accusations from the 1990s, Mr. Trump has repeated an outrageous and long-ago debunked falsehood about former Deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton's until his tragic suicide.

In July 1993, Foster, who suffered from depression, drove to Fort Marcy Park in Virginia, walked into the park with an old revolver and shot himself in the mouth. The park service police concluded that year that Foster committed suicide.

But that did not stop conspiracy theorists at time from concocting all sorts of unfounded allegations. Now, that first investigation was followed by an investigation by CNN in 1994, concluding Foster's death was due to suicide and that alternative scenarios had no credibility.

Other investigations reached the same conclusion, one by independent counsel Robert Fiske in 1994, two by congressional reviews in 1994 and 1995, another by independent counsel Ken Starr in 1997. One would think, case closed, right? Wrong. Donald Trump, in an

interview appearing in today's "Washington Post," called the circumstances surrounding Vince Foster's death -- quote -- "very fishy" and said, "I don't bring Foster's death up because I don't know enough to really discuss it. I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it's fair."

Right, except, of course, you just did that, Mr. Trump. You lend credence to a bizarre and unfounded conspiracy theory. But you're right, it's not fair that you did that, certainly not to Mr. Foster's widow or their three children.

To be clear, the notion that this was a murder is a fiction born of delusion and untethered to reality and contradicted by evidence reviewed in at least six investigations, one of them by Ken Starr, hardly a Bill Clinton defender. To say otherwise is ridiculous and, frankly, shameful.

Again, this is not a pro-Clinton position or an anti-Trump position. It is a pro-truth position.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now.

Now, Dana, to be clear, there are certainly questions to ask about Hillary Clinton or the Clintons, their business dealings, et cetera, but why? What is the strategy behind Mr. Trump raising not only the false charge about the Clintons about Vince Foster, but questions about Mr. Clinton's alleged actions in 1990s. How would that impact his wife in 2016?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the answer to that, according to a couple of Trump sources who I talked to this fan, they argue that going back in time to the '90s may seem like old news to people who lived it, like the two of us.

But for younger voters, especially female voters who don't know much about the Clinton years, Trump is hoping to sow seeds of doubt and do it in a way that few in politics, even the Clintons, have ever experienced before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It is political guerrilla warfare.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton's husband abused women more than any man that we know of in the history of politics, right?

BASH: A source familiar with Donald Trump's campaign strategy tells CNN that Trump dredging up tawdry, unproven allegations about Bill Clinton's past is not based on data or focus groups from his new pollster or his new partner, the Republican National Committee.

TRUMP: She's married to a man who hurt many women. BASH: Instead, CNN is told, this is vintage Trump, going with his

gut, and shooting from the hip, seething after seeing attacks about his own past statements about women, like this ad from a pro-Clinton super PAC.

TRUMP: Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat ass? Absolutely.

MICHAEL COHEN, SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: She attacked Mr. Trump as being a sexist, misogynist, and that's inaccurate. Donald Trump is not any of those things.

BASH: A challenge for Trump in attacking Bill Clinton as anti-woman, and tagging Hillary as an enabler, his own past statements of support, like in 1998 in the midst of Bill Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

[16:05:08]

TRUMP: Can you imagine how controversial I would be? You think about him with the women. How about me with the women?

BASH: Even 10 years later in 2008.

TRUMP: Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.

BASH: Here's how a longtime Trump confident explained his 180.

COHEN: He was a private citizen who was friendly with the Clintons, and he was trying to protect a friend, all right? Now it's a different game.

BASH: And then there are conspiracy theories, like the false charge that Bill Clinton's White House council, Vince Foster, was murdered, despite multiple investigations ruling it a suicide.

Trump told "The Washington Post," Foster's death was -- quote -- "very fishy," but said, "I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it's fair."

Even that feeds the 2016 campaign conversation, which Bill Clinton himself clearly saw coming, saying this just last week :

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You think the stuff they said about her is bad? They accused me of murder. I mean, our memories are short. It's what they do.

BASH: As for Hillary Clinton, so far, she's letting others do the responding, which the first female House speaker told CNN is the way to go.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Hillary is doing exactly the right thing. Don't stoop to that level, really. BASH: Some sources close to Clinton are urging her not to take what

they call Trump's bait.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's exactly what he's fishing for, and I'm not going to be responding.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: A veteran Clinton supporter told me today that if Clinton engages, she is simply going to be agreeing to turn the campaign into an insult-fest.

But, Jake, I spoke to a couple of other Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton who said maybe it is time for her to at least show a bit of her human side, that she did have a very, very tough time as a wife during the '90s, during this big scandal, and that maybe talking a bit about that will help to not just change the conversation, but to make her again look more human and less political.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thanks so much.

Joining me more to talk about this new line of attack, "Washington Post" reporter Dan Balz, Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and former White House communications director and longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Ann Lewis.

Sarah, let me start with you. This afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said that Mr. Trump was trying to distract from his own record by attacking the Clintons this way. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: If any one of us were Donald Trump, wouldn't you try to divert attention from all he's done?

To show how desperate he is, he brought up yesterday the suicide of Foster. Here's a man who committed suicide. There's no question about that. But that's not enough for Donald Trump. Even though suicide is a tragedy, it's not a tragedy for Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A little context there. Senator Reid's father committed suicide. So this might hit home a little closer than normal perhaps.

But, in any case, how do you respond to what Senator Reid had to say?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Look, I think when you're Donald Trump and you have been hit really hard by a lot of false allegations on the front page of "The New York Times," you have a right to fight back and to defend yourself.

And there's a completely double standard in this process and in this campaign between Donald Trump and the Clintons. Donald Trump has false allegations against him from 30 years ago, and it's front page of "The New York Times." But no one is talking about any of the stuff from the Clintons' past and they're getting away scot-free.

And so I think it's a very big double standard, and Donald Trump is the only one talking about it. And he has to because he's getting hit day after day after day with millions of dollars in negative ads on issues like this by the Clinton campaign. They have brought this up. They kind of started this fight and he's going to fight back.

And I think he has a right to do that.

TAPPER: Ann Lewis, your response?

ANN LEWIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We have seen this before.

This is a return to the not so golden times of the '90s. Republicans tried this before in the '90s. They tried using a campaign of personal attacks over and over. And the result was that, in 1998, Democrats won a historic record of seats in that congressional election.

Now, fast-forward. We're now in 2016. The candidate is Hillary Clinton, not Bill Clinton. The office is president of the United States. People look at those votes very seriously.

Hillary Clinton is going to go on doing what she's been doing. She's going to talk about what this election means for your family, for your community, for our country. If Donald Trump wants to keep throwing out our -- or I guess using discredited old conspiracy theories, it's not going to work.

TAPPER: Dan, let me bring you in.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Can I jump in here real quick, Jake?

TAPPER: Well...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would love for this race to be about exactly what Ann said, and that is on the issues, because if you put that contrast of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton, he's going to win every single time.

[16:10:08]

In a time where national security is a major focus, we have seen failure after failure from the Clintons and Secretary Clinton. And so I'm -- absolutely would love to see this campaign be about the economy, be about national security, because if that's the contrast, Donald Trump will beat Hillary Clinton every day of the week.

TAPPER: Well, Dan, let me bring you in.

You remember the '90s as well as I do. It was a period of nasty, personal attacks, conspiracy theories, not to say that none of the charges were true, obviously. But a lot of these attacks, as Ann just pointed out, ended up, politically speaking, actually backfiring. It's very uncommon for a president's party to win congressional seats,

you know, in the middle of the second term, and he did. What do you think might happen now? Is it a completely new era?

DAN BALZ, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a new era in a lot of different ways. We're in an era in which communication is much different than it was back in the '90, and Donald Trump clearly is more of a master of that than the other politicians he's faced.

And we will see whether he's more of a master of it than Hillary Clinton. They obviously are going to have totally different strategies in how they communicate with the American people. As Ann said, Secretary Clinton wants to try to talk about certain particular issues, what she will do for middle-class Americans, et cetera, and so forth.

Donald Trump is going to continue to say and do outrageous things. It is the way he gets attention. It's the way he distracts from other issues. And I think one of the calculations inside the Trump campaign is, yes, he has high negatives, but they're going to do everything they can to make sure that her negatives continue to stay high or perhaps go even higher.

And so they're going to try different things. The Vince Foster -- what he had to say about that, as you said yesterday, is totally false.

TAPPER: Yes.

BALZ: And yet he will continue to try to do those things. He will move from target to target, as a way of being, you know, distracting from the things that she wants to do.

TAPPER: Sarah, let me ask you.

Writing in Dan's party -- Dan's newspaper, "The Washington Post," Chris Cillizza wrote -- quote -- "There's an argument where by what Trump is doing makes perfect political sense. There is no family that Republicans distrust and dislike more than Bill and Hillary Clinton. It's literally impossible for Trump to say or do anything to the Clintons that would send Republican voters scurrying from him. In fact, what Trump is doing, an aggressive airing of the Clintons' dirty laundry, is exactly what many Republicans have been wishing their leaders would do for a long time."

Cillizza's argument, Sarah, is basically that is going to be an election of Democrats and Republicans trying to turn out their bases. Is that the thinking here? Is that the strategy?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think we're -- absolutely have to turn out our base.

But I think Donald Trump is going beyond that, because he's bringing new people into the fold and he's going much further in putting states in play that haven't been on the board for Republicans in a long time. And I think, in large part, in particular, it's not just because it's

the year of the outsider and he's by far the ultimate outsider. Hillary Clinton is the ultimate insider. And so you have this very distinct contrast between two candidates that couldn't be more different, a guy who has never been in Washington, never been in politics, vs. somebody who spent their entire life in that.

And so I think that's absolutely what's taking place. It's not about the base, though, but expanding the base for Donald Trump and putting states on the board that haven't been probably in the last couple of decades for Republicans.

TAPPER: Ann, let me ask you, is there any evidence that you know of that suggests that launching these attacks, even if they're based on complete falsehoods like the Vince Foster attack, that T. will hurt him? We haven't seen him hurt in any way from any of the outrageous and nontraditional campaign steps he makes.

LEWIS: But, actually, if you look at the votes, if you look at the polling, and if you look at the opinion that American women have of Donald Trump -- and here I am referring to a majority of the election -- as Sarah says, there are differences in policies.

That's right. When Donald Trump talks about punishing women who have had abortions, when Donald Trump talks about rolling back gun-free zones, and Hillary Clinton is out there talking about how do we invest in our communities, how do we raise the minimum wage, those are real differences in policies.

And the result has been that American women, by a sizable margin, are supporting Hillary Clinton and have a very negative opinion of Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Dan Balz, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Ann Lewis, thank you, one and all. Appreciate it.

Hillary Clinton already fending off attacks from Donald Trump, but she still cannot shake her Democratic rival, Senator Bernie Sanders. And now Sanders is even saying that the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia could get -- quote -- "messy." What did he mean by that? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:34] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's stick with politics. "Messy," that's the word that Senator Bernie Sanders used to describe what to expect at convention in Philadelphia, telling the "Associated Press", quote, "Democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle."

The Sanders campaign intends to fight to try to convince superdelegates to go with Sanders and not with Hillary Clinton. Why? Well, remember that poll we showed you yesterday that showed Clinton and Trump in a dead heat? Well, that same poll shows Bernie Sanders with a 15-point lead over Donald Trump.

Sunlen Serfaty is tagging along with the Sanders campaign in San Bernardino, California, today.

Sunlen, the Sanders campaign barely lost in Kentucky, a few days ago, and now, today, Sanders says he wants to double-check the votes. What's that about?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

The Sanders campaign is officially requesting today a re-canvass of the Kentucky state they lost by only 1,900 votes. Now, Sanders campaign officials says it's not because they believe that anything was specifically miscounted but because of the closeness of the vote, they just want to make sure everything adds up. But all of this certainly underscores how the Sanders campaign is pursuing each and every avenue to gain traction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

SERFATY (voice-over): Bernie Sanders firing off a fresh warning --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's going to be messy.

SERFATY: Telling the "Associated Press" that he thinks the Democratic convention could get messy if party leaders do not adopt a more progressive agenda.

[16:20:01] SANDERS: So what? Democracy is messy. Every day of my life is messy. But if you want everything to be quiet and orderly and allow, you know, just things to proceed without vigorous debate, that is not what the democracy is about.

SERFATY: But Sanders making it clear he condemns any and all forms of violence.

SANDERS: The media often takes words out of context. The context of that was that democracy is messy. That people will have vigorous debate on the issues.

SERFATY: As Hillary Clinton attempts to unite Democrats for the general election, Sanders is remaining defiant, bowing to carry on to the convention.

SANDERS: If I do not win the nomination, I'm going to fight as hard as I can to win it because I believe, as I said a moment ago, I am a stronger candidate against Trump than Secretary Clinton is.

SERFATY: Clinton, though, already has her sights laser-focused on general election, deciding she will not debate Bernie Sanders again. The Clinton campaign saying her time right now is best spent campaigning and meeting directly with voters across California, and preparing for a general election campaign. Sanders responding with a stinging rebuke --

SANDERS: I think it is a little bit insulting to the people of California, our largest state, that she is not prepared to have a discussion with me about how she will help the Californians address the major crises that we face.

SERFATY: Clinton is focusing her fire on Donald Trump. Her campaign is unleashing a full force strategy against the presumptive GOP nominee, hitting his business record and highlighting his past comments on the collapse of the housing market.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy. If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know, you can make a lot of money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And the Clinton campaign really fans all out over the course of six battleground states hammering Donald Trump on this point, really trying to undercut his business recording, including Hillary Clinton who moments ago brought up to her crowd that Donald Trump has bankrupted companies before, saying that most likely that's not the qualification that they're looking for in a president -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

We broke the story just 24 hours ago. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, under federal investigation. Now, today, Governor McAuliffe responding. What did he say? That's coming up next.

Plus, almost a week after Flight 804 crashed, new questions about the plane's final minutes. Do investigators finally know what may have happened before it fell from the sky?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:52] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

A federal investigation is sending shockwaves throughout political world. It's a story you heard here first on THE LEAD 24 hours ago. The FBI and the Justice Department's Public Integrity Unit are investigating the sitting Democratic governor of the commonwealth of Virginia, and friend of the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe, for allegedly accepting illegal donations to fund his 2013 gubernatorial campaign.

The reporter who broke the story, our own Evan Perez, joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Evan, Governor McAuliffe was out and about today. He said, quote, "Investigations happen," unquote. He also said he really doesn't know why the FBI is looking into his campaign. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Jake. He doesn't

know. He has not been informed by the Justice Department and the FBI that he is a target of an investigation. As a matter of fact, the first he learned of it when we called his office to tell him about it.

Now, this is an investigation that's looking into his 2013 gubernatorial campaign and it's looking at donors and other things. Now, McAuliffe just arrived here on Capitol Hill for a meeting with lawmakers. He didn't talk to reporters when he got in, but earlier in the day he did have a lot to say to reporters. Take a listen to his defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: No one's alleging wrongdoing on my part. As you can see today, I'm full out in force and will continue to be full out in force and, you know, investigations happen. No one's alleges any wrongdoing on my part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And, Jake, what you hear the governor doing today is focusing on one donation $122,000 from a Chinese billionaire Wang Wenliang. And we know that the governor raised about $40 million for his 2013 campaign. The Justice Department says that -- people we have been talking to say this is an active, ongoing investigation, Jake.

TAPPER: And in the gaggle that McAuliffe had he was asked several times about his friendship with the Clintons. What do we know about the donor Wang Wenliang? What do we know about his donations to the Clinton Foundation?

PEREZ: He also gave $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative and he's given to other causes around the country, by the way. We know that the investigators looked at some of those donations, as well. And they've looked at the Clinton Global Initiative. There's no allegation that the foundation did anything wrong here. This is an investigation that is focuses on McAuliffe.

TAPPER: And tell us about this businessman, what do you know about him?

PEREZ: Well, like I said, he's given to causes around the country, including environmental causes. He's a billionaire in China. He served on the Chinese legislature, something called People's National Congress, it's sort of a ceremonial legislature. He also holds a U.S. green card which McAuliffe says makes his donation completely legal.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

In our world lead today, victims remains could help explain the mystery over what happened to Flight 804. But as more bodies are found, new conflicting reports about the plane's final minutes. That story, next.

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